Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Martyrs and mums

It's really not her fault that her birthday coincides with Martyrs' Day in the state. Predictably, she's a Gandhi fan but not of the gushing, overlook-all-faults variety. If it wasn't for the fact that she was just two years old when Gandhi was shot down and the whole Gandhian era came to a halt slowly, I suspect she may have had very little to do with Gandhism in any case - left to her own devices, she may in fact, have started her own little uprising.

Besides, she was born in Ratnagiri and as Antu Barwa says, "Gandhi Ratnagirila ala nahi kadhi."

Call it the sign of the times, but this little girl blossomed into one of the most radical thinkers and go-getters of her generation that I have had the good fortune to come across. In terms of her own life, she established a variety of firsts both for her family and for young women over 50 years ago. Consider these: the first female graduate of the family. A 16th ranker in the PSC exams despite having no books and certainly no tuitions. Her first job in the gram panchayat, followed by an upgrade in the Home Department at Mantralaya. Marriage at the ripe old age of 28. Managing the home and first-born alone after her husband left for a job in Dubai. Managing the home and two daughters alone after her husband moved to Jeddah. Having her third daughter at 42.

Put it down to impatience, short temper and biting sarcasm, but you have to admit she's fair minded - she nags everybody equally. In fact, all family members have received an equal share of spankings (not the husband. Yet), scoldings, praise, kisses, sarcasm and generous amounts of time and money. But the one thing that sticks out about her, always has, is that she is a Cool Dude. Which explains why she and the family have laughingly watched such tripe as The Bold and the Beautiful at an age when her kids' school friends had to sneak a peek at the forbidden serial because of the 'kissing stuff'. In any case, her daughters grew up with a healthy idea of sex and PDAs, never mind the eat-your-face kind of kisses on TV. She even had a few smart comments about that.

Her dinner table is a centre for all discussions - handsome men, fiances, things that happened in the day, little and big worries, remembrances, yellings, loud laughter, the works - simply because the family has grown up as opinionated as her but not as bossy. None of them can observe something hilariously fresh in the obnoxiously mundane as she can. Listen to her closely, and you'll notice signs of a mind sharpened by constant reading, devouring newspapers right down to the tender notices, listening to all and sundry and a sense of humour that I swear is getting increasingly biting as each day passes.

She worries these days that Alzheimer's will attack her. Which is why she is doing her best to combat it in a typical fun way - by solving crosswords and puzzles enthusiastically. At the same time, she is not too worried that her 28-year-old diabetes will strike her down, something she can remedy slightly with a daily walk. "Jaane do na, yaar," is her philosophical explanation - she loathes daily walks. And being forced into it.

On her birthday, there are no special plans. She hates elaborate celebrations and does not like cake. She is embarrassed by expensive gifts. She is cooking, talking endlessly, guzzling tea, being funny, finishing a million chores at once and generally keeping her house well. It's no special day in the life of a woman who was born during the last lap of the freedom struggle and who has always been a free spirit. The same spirit runs through her daughters, who have mercifully been under no pressure to marry, settle down, give up studies for jobs, support the house and dad, or generally behave themselves because they are girls.

Hence her own daughter will be married at the ripe old age of 29 or 30, her last born will be allowed to mess around as much as she likes, and the house will always be clean, smelling of incense and full of this woman's voice. Today and everyday.

Happy 62nd, mum.

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